Journal of Shin Buddhism

You Were Born for A Reason: The Real Purpose of Life

Kentetsu Takamori, Daiji Akehashi and Kentaro Ito

Translated and adapted by June Winters Carpenter
Ichimannendo Publishing, Inc., 2006

This book is said to have been a best seller in Japan. I don’t know what that really means as Stephen Hawking's “A Brief History of Time” was a best seller throughout the English speaking world, and I am sure that most people who bought it didn’t finish reading it! You wouldn’t buy this book though to follow intellectual fashion, so I hope it has been widely read. In English translation it is easily read as far as style and intellectual content goes. However, much of the content of the book is quite confronting and even disturbing.

The first chapter is entitled "The Fragility of Happiness" and it sets the theme for the first part of the book. That suffering is inevitable in life is, of course, the first Noble Truth and is a fundamental Buddhist insight, but it is also the conclusion of any mature consideration of the human condition. That happiness is fragile does not devalue happiness, but the first few chapters are so uniformly pessimistic that one could begin to think so. There is a purpose and structure to the book though and the point of the title of the book is being made here: money, fame, power and other pleasures are in the end empty and the purpose of life lies beyond them all. In these early chapters a central concept of the book is introduced – dark mind, which is defined as the mind of ignorance about what will happen after death and therefore the ultimate source of suffering.

Next, having shown us the foolishness of our secular goals in life, the authors show us how useless and hypocritical are any pretensions of virtue that we might harbour. This is deeply in accord with Shinran Shonin’s insight and teaching and is leading the reader to Amida’s Primal Vow. In Tannisho Shinran Shonin is quoted as saying. "I am incapable of doing any good at all, and so Hell is my eternal dwelling place."

Like Tannisho, this book is uncompromising. It is pushing the reader to the deep and truly honest reflection that scours away intellectual and spiritual falsity, and which will take one beyond the naivety of "spiritual materialism" to an insight that leaves one able to hear Amida’s calling voice. It is precisely because of our false and irredeemable nature that Amida will save us, but as long as we cling to illusions as to our own moral and spiritual virtue we cannot hear His call.

The last third of this book is most particularly concerned with Shinran Shonin’s shinjin and how we are to arrive at the same state of mind. The authors emphasise that for them shinjin is attained as an all-or-nothing state in a single moment that should be able to be recalled. This is an interpretation particular to the Shinrankai sect of Jodo Shinshu. This sect apparently makes this an essential part of their understanding and has cut itself off from the mainstream of Jodo Shinshu. This is a great pity as the most of the teachings of this book are entirely orthodox and helpful.

What is the real purpose in life that this book seeks to reveal? It is to live our lives secure in diamond-like shinjin, to live our lives free of fear of death, to live our lives secure in the knowledge that we are saved right here and now by the infinite virtue of Amida Buddha.

- Mark Healsmith

You Were Born for A Reason

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